Archive for August, 2016

Harry steered the camper in a wide half circle around debris in the parking lot and guided the vehicle to the fueling island of the abandoned station.  The front of the vehicle faced the town. Randy and Pablo parked the two trucks close enough fuel up as well.

Harry glanced over his shoulder.  “Cody, I need you and your sister to keep an eye out that back window.  You see anything at all moving, you give us a heads up.”

Trace jumped up. “We can do that.”  She pulled at her brother’s arm. “Come on. We can watch together.”

“Sure.”  Cody answered flatly.

Liz clutched at her back as she followed Harry and John out of the camper. “He’s having a hard time.” Harry grunted as way of an answer so Liz continued. “I think it would help if you would spend some time with him.”

“I’ll try, but ain’t never had kids.  Don’t know what good I’d do.”  Harry answered.

“Dr. Phil, let’s get this done.” John commented as he headed toward the access port.

“Fine. But think about it.” Liz turned around and stepped back in the camper. “Pass the adapter through the window when you’re ready.

He dropped the pump to the ground and used the tool they had found on a fuel truck to open the cover over the tank access.  He pulled a string with three silver dollar sized washer tied to the end from his pocket.  He dropped the washers into the hole and spooled out the string counting the knots as he unwound the string.  He felt the hesitation when the washer hit the fuel and again when it hit the bottom.

“About half full.”

He wound up the string and dropped the hose into the hole.  He hooked up the pump to a second hose.  Harry picked up the end carried it to camper.  He opened the fuel cover on the camper and poured a bottle of fuel stabilizer into the tank. Harry glanced over his shoulder.

“Liz, plug in the pump.”

Pablo and Mario, Pablo’s son, each carried automatic weapons to edge of the back of the trio of vehicles.  Pablo stopped at the back of the camper while Mario made his way further down the street.  The small electrical motor chugged gallon after gallon of the precious fuel into the camper.  After nearly five minutes, the gas tank of the camper burped fuel across Harry’s hand and called out.

“Off!”

John turned off the pump and Harry carried the hose to the truck Randy had been driving. He stuck the hose in the tank and called out order to turn the pump on again.

Randy led Miguel across the street to the vet clinic.  It was a small brick building with two waist high windows in front and a glass door.  There was a small fenced area at the side. All the while, Randy scanned the street for any movement.

“Where are the people?”  Miguel asked. “There should be at least a few signs of people or the infected around.”

Randy grunted his agreement. “Yeah. I don’t like it.”

When they stepped up to the glass door, Randy tapped on the glass with the crook of a crowbar. They looked into the gloom of the building and saw only shadows and hints of a reception desk.

Randy slid the end of the crowbar between the door and facing.  Leaning into the bar, there was a pop and the door pulled free of the door jam.  He held the door with his elbow and caught a whiff of death.  A low growl from inside make both men halt.

“Shit.”  Randy growled. “A dog. They left animals to starve.”

“What are we going to do?”

“Let’s do this.”  Randy said as he flicked on his LED light and moved deeper into the recesses of the office.  He noticed four doors across the back wall.  A sad whimper could be heard from behind one of the doors. Randy started at the right and opened the first door a crack.  He saw the white shadow of a toilet and closed the door.

Randy glanced at Miguel and he moved his head from left to right. “Exam room.” He mouthed.

Randy moved to the next door while Miguel did the same.  Nodding at Miguel, Randy waited to see what he would find.

“Same.” Miguel announced. “They each have a door to the back.

“Okay, this had to go to the back room.” Randy whispered.  “Follow me.”

Randy opened the door and the stench of urine, feces and death was overpowering.  The back room was as massive open space divided by function.  Along the left wall was cages; three for large dogs, three for medium size dogs and six for small pets.  Three of the cages held bodies. The door stood open on one of the large cages.  The cage was empty. Along the right wall was the medical cabinets, surgical table and a number of machines.

“Shit.” Randy cursed as a low growl emanated from the shadows.

While the black mare stood back watching, Della jammed the file between the top horizontal board and the post, wrapped the rag over the end and pulled.  She grunted and groaned with exertion.  Sweat beaded on her faced.  Her arms ached with the strain then suddenly a squeak of the board pulling the nail from the post startled her and she stumbled back.  She grabbed the hammer and wedged the pointed end into the opening.  She leaned all her weight into the handle.  The second nail began moving with its own protesting squeak. A moment later the board pulled free and she fell to her butt gasping for breath.

More of the infected now pressed against the fencing protecting the barn yard.  Della scrambled to her feet and grabbed the end of the board and pull until the nails on the opposite end pulled free. It fell to the ground.

Without really taking time to catch her breath, she repeated the process with the top end of the front cross board. She pulled and jerked at the end of the board with the hammer.  Suddenly the handle snapped and the board pulled free.  Della stumbled back to her feet and stepped behind the board to pry the opposite end free.

She heard the snap of wood breaking but instead of the wood in her hands falling to the ground the tension remained.  Still confused, she pushed again and the wood fell away.  The black mare screamed in terror.

Della turned around in time to see infected spilling over the broken fencing into the barn yard.  She got to her feet and grabbed the hammer.  She darted back to pick up the medical bag and satchel.

“This way!”  She shouted.

The black mare and other horses startled and raced toward away from the downed fencing.  When the infected stumbled toward Della the mare galloped between Della and the infected. The infected turned from Della and stumbled after the terrified thorough-bred.

Dell picked up her bags and stepped over the last cross board on the fencing.  She stuck two fingers between her lips and blew. A sharp shrill whistle drew the attention of infected and horses alike.

“Best I can do!” She shouted then turned and ran along the paddock fence back to the ATV.

Ten minutes later Della climbed on the ATV and cranked the engine.  She backed the machine out of the brush and steered the four-wheeler through the brush to the edge of the blacktop. She accelerated and the heavy tires climbed from the ditch to the blacktop.  She clutched, shifted and accelerated.  Once on the open road, she clutched and slipped the machine into the top gear anxious to leave the ranch behind.

She glanced over her shoulder hoping to see at least a couple of the horses had escaped but the road was empty except for the wreckage at the front of the ranch gate. A little sad, Della turn back to face the road ahead.  She settled in for the long ride home and suddenly the engine began to sputter and cough.

“Crap.”  Della whispered.  “Please, let it be just the gas.”

She down shifted and stopped the machine.  She turned off the engine and sat still for a moment listing to the ticking of the cooling engine.  She tapped on the gas tank and frowned.

She stepped off and walked to the back of the ATV.  She unhooked the bungee from the gas can and carried it to the tank. She poured gas and realized the tank was barely half empty.  She recapped can and put it back on the back bumper and secured it.

Della stepped back on the machine and turned the key.  The starter coughed then died.

“Shit!”  She cursed.

She climbed back off the machine and walked around the machine looking at the motor.  Who was she kidding?  She knew nothing about motors. She looked at the wires and tubing…tubing.  That was it! She forgot to open the valve on the gas line.

“Idiot!”

Della turned the red valve then climbed on the machine just as the sound of heavy clomping steps came up behind her.  Afraid to even look back, she turned the key and the engine cough twice then cranked.  She popped the clutch and the ATV took off.  When she was headed away from the sound she glanced over her should and laughed.

The terror melted as she saw the black mare leading four more horses toward her.  Della eased off on the gas.  The thoroughbreds followed at a steady trot.

“What in the hell do I do now?” She whispered.

Della pondered the problem with her entourage as she cruised down the highway and before she knew it she was turning on the gravel road up toward the corral and cabin. That’s it. The corral. There’s a shed with hay and a windmill keeping the water trough full.  At least for the time being.

Della pulled the ATV to the shed and turned off the engine.  The quiet was heavy and almost frightening after the ride on the growling machine. She stepped to the gate and held it open as she watched the black mare lead the other through the opening.  The black stopped and whinnied.

“I know. It’s not home but it’s as good as it’s gonna get for a while.” Della chuckled.

“What are you doing with horses?”  A deep male voice asked from behind Della. She jumped and spun around grabbing for the gun in her bag. “Easy.  It’s just me.” Zack continued.

Della slowly closed the gate. “It’s a long story.  I think we need to give them some hay and try to wipe them down.  They’ve had a long trip.”

Zack looked puzzled. “Where did you go on the ATV?”

“The horse ranch. Steve needs antibiotics.” She answered as she pulled a square bale of hay from the barn toward the fence.  She pulled off the string on one side then the other.  She dropped half the cakes of hay over the fence. Della picked up a handful of hay and stepped inside the pen. The black horse came to her for a nuzzled nudging at her arm.  Della slid her hand with the hay down the strong sleek neck. The mare shivered and straightened her neck.

“Oh, you like that, huh?” Della chuckled.  “Come on Zack, you could help.”

“No.  Not me.  I’m a city boy.” He answered with a grin.

Della quickly wiped down the sweat-covered animal.  When she was finished, she grabbed a fresh handful of hay and walked toward another horse, but the animal shied away. Della barely got close enough to touch a flank or brush a shoulder of the other four animals.  Finally, she sighed and dropped the hay to the ground.

“Let’s get to the cabin. Steve needs the medicine.”

Della stepped out of the farm manager’s office and glanced at her watch.  She had been gone nearly three hours and needed to get back to the cabin. Steve was in bad shape and she had to get the antibiotics back to him as soon as possible.  If not, well, she knew his chances of surviving the infection raging through his body diminished with each hour he was without antibiotics. She only hoped what she found would be strong enough.

Since Della had been inside the building, the infected had lost interest in the carcasses of the horses in the paddock.  Now they pressed against the wooden fence surrounding the outbuildings of the horse ranch, anxious to get the remaining horses.

She sighed.  Her releasing the horses from the paddock provided temporary respite for the remaining animals from the infected, but now they were as trapped as she was in the barn. She could climb over the fencing at the side of barn lot but the horses would still be trapped with the monsters. She studied the white fencing and realized the concentration of infected against the boards would soon pull the nails from the post.  The black mare and the other horses were doomed.

Della pulled the shoulder bag close, turned and ran toward the barn and the side fence beyond.  She heard galloping hooves and turned to see the black mare racing after her.  Della stopped and the mare slowed to stroll up to nuzzled against her arm.

“Shit!”  Della looked toward the barn then the mare.  “What am I supposed to do?” She asked as she continued toward the fence until the black whinnied. Della took a deep breath and headed into the stable.

“I’m not making any promises.” She called over her shoulder as the black mare followed.

She ran to stable and down the passageway to the tack room.  She stepped into the room.  Rays of sunlight streamed through the window illuminating the rows of bridles and tack on the side wall.  A work bench under the window included a number of small hammers, pliers and scraps of leather.  Nothing large enough to pull the boards from the post.  Two handmade saddles rested on saw horses. A nearby can of saddle soap and several clothes hinted at the reason for their presence.

“Damn-it…damn-it…damn-it!” Della cursed.  She stepped out of the tack room and glanced around frustrated.  Suddenly she noticed a box at the front of barn entrance.  She hurried to it and swung open the lid.

“Bingo!”

She reached inside and pulled out two farrier hammers.  Both were pretty light weight but she hoped they would do the trick.  As an afterthought, she grabbed a rag and heavy file nearly two feet long. With tools in hand, she jogged to the fence and began walking from the front toward the back, hoping to find a loose board or two. After a full minute, she noticed one pulled away from the post a quarter of an inch.

She dropped her shoulder satchel, the medical bag and tools.  She glanced at the gathering infected at the fence.  Some of the infected had noticed her and the black and followed them to the side of the paddock.  They pressed against the boards with the front most bodies spilling blood and gore over the pristine white in dark rivulets.

Matt walked to the door and tapped on the glass. He waited and listened.  When they heard nothing inside, he reached into his pocket and drew out his LED light.  He flicked it on and passed the beam around the aged living room. The distant wall was covered in a rose floral print paper.  A worn recliner could be seen near a floor lamp with a table and candle.

A doorway to the left led into what Matt imagined was the kitchen since he could see the corner of a chrome leg with a Formica-top. Fanning the beam back to the right he saw a darkened hallway.  Matt tapped against the glass again. Again, they listened.

“Did you hear that?”

“No.  I don’t think I heard anything.” Matt answered as he cocked his head.

“I think I heard something,” Doc answered. “We don’t have to do this.”

“We’ve had this discussion.”

Matt reached out and turned the door knob. The knob moved, and the door swung open a few inches. The stench of death wafted out forcing both men to step back.

“There’s a dead body in there, and it’s had a while to ripen,”  Doc announced.

Matt pulled his t-shirt up over his nose and mouth.  “Hear that? Flies.”

“They’re dead. You do not need to go in there.”

“I have to make sure.  Stay here. No need for you to see this.” Matt answered as he stepped into the dark.

The house reeked of death and decay. Amid the shadows, Matt could see the remnants of lives that no longer existed.  The furnishings resonated with the simplicity of those lives; simple, comfortable, not much for frills.  Above a stone fireplace was an aged picture of a young Marine in uniform with a ribbon with a military medal hanging from the corner. More pictures of a Viet Nam era soldiers were displayed above the stone fireplace. The room appeared as if the residents had just stepped out for an afternoon. Matt heard footsteps and turned to see Doc following him.

“Told you, you didn’t need to come in here.”

“Not the first time I smelled death. Let’s get this over with.” Doc answered.

Matt moved from the living room to the kitchen.  The room was as neat and tidy as the previous room had been. The only thing that seemed out of place was a yellow tablet and pen on the table. Matt fanned the beam from side to side and back to the hall.

“Nothing here. Let’s move on.”

He led Doc deeper into the dark recesses of the house. He glanced through a door to the left and saw a claw foot tub, a toilet and old time pedestal sink.  A hand towel and wash cloth were folded carefully over the towel rack. A second doorway exposed a sparsely furnished bedroom, with a double bed and a dresser and massive wardrobe.  The last door at the end of the hall was closed, and as they drew closer, the stench of death grew even stronger.

Matt stepped to the door and paper crinkled under his foot.  Matt shined the light on the hand written note lying on the floor. He leaned over and picked it up.  A small piece of tape stuck up from the top.  The author had taped it to the door and at some point, the humidity had loosened the glue, and it had fallen from the door.

Matt looked closer. The note was dated five days after the attack.

Son, Your mother, passed peacefully this morning. Did what had to be done to give her peace. My time is short, and I know what will happen. I still have the .45, so I’m choosing when and how I go rather than wait for this infection to take me. I won’t cause more pain and suffering. I pray you, Jenny and the kids are safe and spared this plague. Your mother and I are at peace. Be brave and secure in our love, your father. 

Matt turned to Doc. “Okay, we can go.”

“You’re not going to look? Make sure.” Doc asked.

“Don’t need to. He was a Marine.” Matt returned the paper to the door with a trembling had and replaced the strip of cellophane tape with a piece of duct tape.

“You think the family will come?”  Doc asked.

“No. I think if they survived, they would be here by now.  Let’s look around and see if we can find some real food.  I’ve real tired of gas-station snacks.”

Matt leads Doc back to the kitchen where both men spent a few minutes opening cabinets.

“What about this door?”  Doc placed his hand on a pantry door knob.  Matt retrieved another flashlight from his pocket and tossed the LED light to him.

Doc opened the door and gasped. “Bingo!”